MADISON, Wis. – The biggest needs of the 17 Gulf Coast credit unions impacted most severely by Katrina are in staffing and employee housing, according to CUNA’s top point man on disaster recovery. “We’re working hard to match up the many offers by credit unions to help out in those specific areas,” said Scott G. Earl, CUNA’s new director of disaster recovery and preparedness. Earl, the former president/CEO of the Utah League of Credit Unions who took over the CUNA job last month, is also head of the “Adopt a CU” program which now numbers 100 CUs. Those CUs include many large institutions from California to Kentucky which have agreed to provide direct financial, equipment or volunteer assistance to the beleaguered Louisiana and Mississippi CUs. Some smaller CUs unable to bear the full cost of an adoption have also signed up for Adopt and are in joint operations, said Earl. The match-ups, said Earl, are often based on common needs in core processing or CUs with similar membership population. The CUNA executive said despite sensitivities about the name-adopt- conjuring up merger or welfare connotations, the trade group has decided to stick with the adopt name for the time being though it may change the name later on. Discussing staffing at the 17 CUs, Earl noted the loss of employees who have either moved away or been displaced is most striking in such areas as collections, accounting and information technology. These are all areas where Adopt is striving to help out. As an anecdote, Earl noted that some Louisiana CUs have been hard-pressed to rebuild the ranks of their front-line employees and on that score, “they’re having to compete with Burger King which is offering a $6,000 bonus and $8.50 an hour wages.” Earl said he remains impressed with the resiliency of the impacted CUs, particularly their spirit and “their determination to do the right thing for their members.” As for housing, he said a recent tabulation showed 175 Louisiana CU employees in need of housing and 160 in Mississippi. Earl’s office remains in Madison but he said he has trips arranged to return to the Gulf Coast this week meeting with CU executives in Texas and later driving into Mississippi and New Orleans. -jrubenscut@aol.com